Tag Archive for 'Disaster'

Open Letter & Appeal to Charities in Bangladesh


Image via AFP

Although not anywhere near as bad as Cyclone Sidr which hit Bangladesh in 2007, Cyclone Alia has already killed 100 over 200 people with many more displaced and without access to shelter or clean & safe drinking water. I want to help – but I might as well be back in my bed in Canada because that goal is so very far away.

I need a hero.

Nick Downie (Save the Children) On the Boat with Me

Nick Downie (2007)

I was able to help during Cyclone Sidr because of someone who is now a personal hero of mine. His name is Nick Downie. Back during Cyclone Sidr, he was working for Save the Children UK. In the midst of all this death and trauma, Nick saw the sincerity in my desire to help… and gave me the opportunity.


Helping Kids with Save the Children

Thanks to him approximately 35 children at a Save the Children Safe Center were provided with blankets to sleep under in advance of the winter season that was quickly approaching. Without any homes or shelter, those blankets were the only way many of those children & families were able to stay warm that winter. I’m willing to help again and have even more to offer this time.

One LifeStraw = Clean Water For One Year

One LifeStraw = Clean Water For A Year

Thanks to Vestergaard-Frandsen I have 45 personal water purification units. These can turn water from any salt-free source (a pond, a river, a lake) and turn it into safe drinking water. I have 10 insecticide treated tarpaulins – useful as shelter and to keep disease spread by bugs away. I also have donations from over 22 different countries ready to be spent. But I have no means to help anyone just by myself.

I need a hero again.

Thus far, my friends at Save the Children are working up the various chains of command trying to see if I can team up again. No word yet – but I am hopeful. A friend at the American International School helped me network with the Deputy Country Director of Care Bangladesh. The Deputy Country Director thanked me for the offer – and then politely denied my request.

I am ready willing, and able to go to the field right away. I know it’s not going to be a glamorous experience. Last time I went, the “toilet” was nothing more than a hole in the ground and my “bed” was nothing more than two abandoned school desks put together. I don’t ask for much except the opportunity to get out there, help, and share the story with those interested in following along.

It’s disasters like Cyclone Alia that highlight a painful reality for me here in Bangladesh. Charities are more than happy for people like me to raise awareness & funds for them back home. But doing the same with them on the ground is a completely different reality – and the majority of charities haven’t given me the time of day to even consider the possibility.

Now more than ever, I need someone to help me so I can help others.

Cyclone Disaster Relief with Save the Children

In the wake of the recent, Cyclone Nargis and the devastation it’s caused in Burma/Myanmar – I’ve been reminded of my time in the Cyclone Sidr Disaster Area. Even though there was so much destruction, there was a lot to be thankful for. There was an early warning system that helped prevent many deaths. While I did encounter many people who lost loved ones – I also was relieved to meet families who heeded the warning and either went to higher ground or to the cities.

I thought I’d share this latest deleted scene from my day with Save the Children from back in November:

This Photo Kills Me

Left in the Cold

My parents always told me I tend to focus on the negative. I had given over 30 blankets on the day this photo was taken (not the 30 I gave with Save the Children – that was another batch of blankets I had bought).

Some kids, like the one on the right, were lucky enough to get one. Others, like the other kid in the photo, were left shivering in the cold. Why is it that I can sometimes forget the faces of the kids that I’ve helped, but manage to never forget the ones I couldn’t?

Site Changes, Personal Changes

When I first started this blog, I didn’t have much to show for this project. In fact, the day I wrote my first blog post I was stuck in a relatives’ home because all of Bangladesh was under military curfew.

Since then I have a lot to show: I’ve given away two cases of water during the summer flooding season. I’ve given over fifty mosquito nets (including one long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito net called PermaNet) to rural villagers. I’ve given wind-up flashlights to low-income students trying to study without electricity as well as one to a low-income disaster relief volunteer. I’ve helped to pay for a large group of poor children to have a balanced and healthy meal. And, recently, I’ve distributed 70 blankets (30 of which I did with Save the Children, another 30 with Muslim Aid UK, and 10 I gave out one-on-one) to victims of a Cyclone Sidr.

So it’s about time I tweak the look of the site a bit. Gone is the static photo of my Notre Dame hat and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs’ book. I’m still using that photo – but the main picture on my site now changes randomly every few minutes (you’ll have to reload manually) to shows some of the things I’ve done and interesting people I’ve met. This change also reflects a decision I’ve made.

When I first came to Bangladesh, I thought I would stay here for a couple of months and then go. But since coming here, I’ve kept changing my departure date. September departures became October departures – and so on. I don’t know when exactly I am going to fly home – but I know I will be here in Bangladesh Christmas and the New Year. For the first time in my life – I’ll be spending Christmas and New Years away from both my Mom and Dad.

It’s not easy staying here. There are bugs, germs, and it’s easy to get sick. I’m far from my friends and I am kind of getting homesick. This has also had a cost on my family (in particular my mother who had contracted Dengue Fever during the time she was accompanying me on this project). But, despite all this difficulty, I have a unique opportunity. I’m doing something no one has ever done before (at least in terms of how I’m sharing my experience and work online with others through Flickr, YouTube, and blogging). And I’m helping others while I do it. How many people can say that?

I also want to share a message and inspire others. It’s hard to do that if I’m just uploading old footage and photos from my home in Canada. Hopefully by staying this project can grow and perhaps inspire others.

Uncultured Project Inspires Family – Blows My Mind

“So exactly how many blankets did you buy?” asked my uncle on a phone call shortly after I returned from the disaster area. “About 70” I answer. “Uh huh. And how much did this cost?” he asked. “About 14,000 taka [$204 USD]”. “Uh huh” my uncle replied. The phone call pretty much went like that for a few more minutes. He was asking very probing questions like where I bought these blankets from, how did I take them to the disaster area, and where I got the money to buy these blankets from. I answered them in a matter-of-fact manner. After a few more “uh huhs”, he gave me his best wishes, said goodbye, and hung up.

Little did I know that I was about to be upstaged by my uncle. And the best part is – I love it.

This is the same uncle I called while I was in the disaster area with Nick Downie from Save the Children. After my uncle retired from military service, he went into business for himself and has become somewhat of a successful man in the private sector. Less than 24 hours after this very inquisitive phone call, I find out that he, his youngest son, and his daughter-in-law have organized a self-funded family aid operation of their own. This aid operation blows what I’ve been doing right out of the water.

Whereas, I bought 70 blankets to give away for about $200 USD – my uncle and his family has bought two-thousand blankets for over 500,000 taka. That is over $7,000 USD in blankets. Given the fact that these are “family-sized” blankets (where more than one person will be sharing this blanket – sometimes a whole family of four) – this means that anywhere from two to eight thousand people will be sleeping warmly this winter. In addition, my uncle’s daughter-in-law (do I say cousin-in-law or just cousin?) will be giving out cold hard cash on-site so people in the disaster area can cover any emergency expenses they have. Approximately 10,000 taka (over $140 USD) in cash will be given out in the disaster area.

Now, here’s the crazy part: I am going with them to help distribute all this! I leave tomorrow. I’m leaving my computer behind because a lot of the journey will be via speedboat down rivers. I hope to come back after three days and hopefully will have lots of photos and videos to share.

Once more unto the breach.

Helping Kids with Save the Children

On the third day, I teamed up with Save the Children to try and make a difference in the remote region of the Cyclone Disaster Area. Why am I uploading a video about Day 3 first? Well, this was one of the most profound days of my life. I wanted to share this first. I also wanted to try and have a video that ends on a somewhat positive note. This video features both freshly laid graves and clapping children – so it’s quite a wide gamut of emotions in this episode.

YouTube has a ten-minute limit on its videos, so this is really just a snapshot of what happened that day. Here are some things that I wasn’t able to mention in the video:

  • The first kid you see to receive a blanket lost his mother from the Cyclone.
  • As we approached the coastline, Nick Downie was warning me “careful what you film – we don’t want to anger the military”. I quickly call my uncle (ex-Colonel in the Bangladesh army) asking him what regiment he used to be in – just in case I need to drop his name in the event the military harass us. “Don’t worry,” my uncle replied, “the relationship between Bangladesh and Save the Children is as old as Bangladesh itself – you’ll be fine,”. But then he added, “if you do get into trouble – give me a call,”.
  • We found a lot more graves of small children along the way – I just couldn’t bear to include them all in the video. Some were buried so shallow you could basically see an outline of the body.
  • At one point I ask Nick Downie (Save the Children), “is that smell the dead bodies or the dirty water?”. He replies “a bit of both”. The stench really was that bad. But, I didn’t want to disgust my viewers more than I already had – so I cut that out.
  • I got scratched by a rusty nail along my journey to the abandoned school. I also banged up my ankles a bit as I tripped in a few spots. The paths were far more treacherous than they look on camera.
  • Some of the most dangerous paths to the abandoned school couldn’t be filmed – like walking on a stick of bamboo over a pond. Bamboo is officially miracle wood in my books. Anything that can support my weight with just a stick has to be magical.

The worst was when I was distributing the blankets. I know that should be the high point – and it does look good on video. But, in reality, my stomach was turning. I only had 30 blankets – and the room must had far more kids than that. For every kid that was happy to get a blanket, I saw another right next to him or her with this anxious look on their face. It’s the kind of look that says “Will I get one? Will I be called next?”. It killed me. After all my 30 blankets had been assigned for distribution, a little girl came up to me and asked in Bengali “Can I have a blanket too?”. I can’t even type that without chocking up.

Click the jump for some photos that supplement this latest episode. Continue reading ‘Helping Kids with Save the Children’

Recovering from the Field

I came back from the field with two things: 1) a fever, and 2) a better understanding of the kind of suffering that people in the disaster area are facing.

I was in the field for only three days and was using hand sanitizer every 30 minutes. Yet, despite that, I ended up getting some sort of respiratory bug that has left me coughing a lot, with a bit of a fever, and pretty weak. This gets me thinking – if I had it this bad after three days – imagine living there.

I’m recovering pretty quickly – but that’s because I have luxuries that those over there don’t. I can get rest, can have plenty of fluids, and take regular showers and have Tylenol to keep my fever down. These are luxuries that most in the disaster area don’t have.

One thing I remember I distinctly remember was the intense heat. I had spent my last day in the disaster area with Save the Children where we examined remote areas where aid had not completely arrived. The cyclone had destroyed any roads that could have been used to get there. Now, you could only get there by boat or by foot. The only clean water for miles was the water bottles we carried from basecamp.

There were rows of graves right next to rows of make shift homes. Children all over the place. Many of them, no doubt, probably caught the same bug I did (or caught something worse). But, most of them won’t have any Tylenol for their fever, clean water to rehydrate, and definitely no place to shower to clean up.

Apologies if I have been reticent with this blog in recent days. I hope to be up to speed again in a few days time. Been trying to get a lot of rest since coming back.